Home » Best Bike Stems: Buying Guide

Best Bike Stems: Buying Guide

by Nathan Zachary
best bike stems

The stem of a bike is a basic function. Its primary purpose is to secure the handlebars to the fork steerer. For more information, see our best bike stem buying guide ….

The stem type, material, and dimensions (e.g. length, rise, etc.) play an important role in the fit and handling of a bike. It is therefore crucial to make a choice carefully.

Which MTB stem is best for you?

There are many factors that will determine the right stem for your MTB bike, including the type of stem, materials, and dimensions.

Stem type

Most MTB and road bike stems today are Aheadstem designs. Also known as ‘Aheadset stem or ‘threadless’, this bolts directly onto the fork’s steerer tube. The plug-in quill design is only available on the best hybrid bikes or those that are more expensive.

Stem materials

While aluminium alloy is still the most popular stem material in low to mid-budget stems, carbon fiber models are now available at the top of the market. They appeal mainly to racers on-road as well as off-road.


There are many sizes of stems available, with the most popular being 1 1/8″. Some models can be made to fit older bikes with 1 inch steerers. However, a shim is also possible to make them fit standard stems.

There are a variety of clamp sizes that can be used to accommodate different handlebar diameters. MTB bars typically measure 25.4mm (standard) and 31.8mm OS(oversize). The latter is the most popular because of its strength and stiffness.

MTB stems: In-depth

Length of stem

The length of the stem is a critical consideration when selecting a stem. Road riders choose the stem length based on their bike fit and position. However, off-road riders need to consider the length of the stem as it will affect how the bike handles. A shorter stem will result in a noticeably faster and more responsive handling, which is an advantage when riding technical singletrack or gravity. For example, super-slack DH sleds usually have stubby blocks-style stems around 40mm. XC racers prefer long stems (110-120mm) paired with narrow bars.

A mid-length stem between 60 and 80mm is the best for many riders. These shorter stems are more compatible with modern trail bikes and long-forked hardtails than the steep angles found on XC bikes. It is possible to play around with different stem lengths until you find the one that suits your needs. A difference of just 10mm can make a big difference in singletrack handling and pedalling comfort.

Stem rise

Stem rise is the angle of the stem relative to the fork steerer tub. It affects bike positioning, reach, and reach. For example, a stem that has a zero rise is basically straight. A stem that has a rise 10deg has a angle of 10deg between the handlebar clamp and steerer. A majority of stems have a moderate rise, with 6deg being the most common. However, a stem that has a rise greater than 6deg can be flipped to provide a lower bar position. You may have to play with stem height to get the right balance between pedalling comfort and handling response. However, stem rise is only one method to achieve your ideal cockpit position. Other options include handlebar height and spacers on steerer tubes. There are many other options.

Types Common

Cross-country race

A XC race stem is usually long (100-120mm), flat (zero rise or a small degree elevation) to enable the rider to achieve the best position for racing. To shed more weight, it may be made from carbon fiber.

Trail stem

The typical trail stem is between 60-80mm in length and has a moderate rise (e.g. 6deg for more upright riding and faster steering in technical singletrack. It is easier for riders to transfer their weight onto the back wheel by using a shorter stem when they are descending. Trail stems are usually made from lightweight, strong and stiff aluminium alloy.

Stems downhill

For Downhill racing (DH), stems are short (40-50mm). This allows for quick handling. Many DH stems can be integrated (also called ‘direct mount’), to match certain suspension forks. They bolt directly onto the top clamp on triple-clamp DHforks and not onto the steerer tube. DH stems are mainly made from aluminium alloy, but carbon models can be found at the top of the market.

Which road bike stem works best for you?

The right type of stem, material, and dimensions will all play a role in choosing the right stem for your road bike, just as with MTB stems.

Stem type

Most road bike stems available today are Aheadstem designs. Also known as ‘Aheadset stem or ‘threadless’, these bolt directly onto the fork’s steerer tubes. The plug-in quill design is only available on older bikes or those with lower budgets. Best bike stems can be customized with extra features, such as computer mounts or adjustable rise. Others, which are designed for time trials and triathlon racing may be integrated into single-bar/stem units.

Stem materials

Aluminum alloy is still the most popular stem material in low to mid-budget stems. However, carbon fibre models are becoming increasingly popular with racers and anyone who wants to lose weight and increase comfort.


There are a variety of sizes of stems available, with 1 1/8″ being the most popular (a shim is possible to make them fit older bikes with 1 inch steerers). A range of clamp sizes are available to fit different handlebar diameters. 26/25.8mm and 31.8mm are the standard road sizes.

Road stems: In-depth

The stem length is a crucial factor in the overall fit and comfort of your bike. For riders who want to ride in a long, low, and aerodynamic position (e.g. For the best’stretch,’ competitive racers will choose a longer stem (120mm+). A shorter stem is better for casual riders who find this position uncomfortable.

A shorter stem or a higher rise can make it more comfortable for riders who aren’t keen to ride too long. Budding racers who want to improve their pedalling efficiency and aerodynamics might consider reducing the stem length or lowering the cockpit a bit. You will discover what works best for you by trying it out.

Which BMX stem works best for you?

The height and reach of your BMX stem will have a major impact on how the bike handles. A stem must offer the best balance between responsive handling and comfortable positioning. It should also be strong enough to withstand street and park riding with no failures.

Stem materials, types and dimensions are some of the most important things to consider.


Most BMX stems made of strong, stiff, and lightweight aluminium alloy are strong and durable. The most popular types are 6061 and 7075. This alloy is considered to have a greater strength-to-weight ratio but is more susceptible to corrosion. High-end BMX stems will have extensive CNC machining to reduce weight but not compromise strength.


There are two main types of BMX stems: front load, where the front plate is vertical and has horizontal bolts to clamp bars; and top load, where the front plate or nearly so is horizontal and the bolts are vertical – basically, where bars go in from top to bottom.


Like all stems, BMX stem length (length) can affect the handling characteristics of the bike.

BMX stems: In-depth

Bar positioning

When choosing a stem, the most important thing is to consider its effect on your bar position. This is why it is important to know your preferred position. A top load stem will allow you to ride higher bars to have more leverage on the back of your bike. A front load stem is for you if you prefer lower bars and a more forward riding position.


Your overall reach on your bike will be affected by the length of your stem. While a shorter stem will allow for more upright riding and more responsive handling, it may not be as stable at high speeds. A longer stem will give you more control over the front wheel and be more stable. This is important for certain tricks like nose manuals. You may find it easier to ride a shorter bike with a longer stem than a shorter one.

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